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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

yo                    MODERN   GERMAN   LITERATURE

metaphorically the worship of evil instead of good - then it is as
a matter of fact nothing new in German literature: it is defiantly
expressed in the old ballad of Tannhauser and in the Tannhauser
legend familiar to all from Wagner's opera; and even such a dog-
gedly moral poet as Schiller wrote, in his effervescent youth, a
Satanist poem (Der Venuswageri). Here already the devil and Venus
are one. Satanism is in any case, as the reverse of the accepted
standard of moral conduct, a modern version of medieval dualism,
But the medieval parallel is illusory. What this modern Satanism
springs from can be stated at least approximately: its literary ori-
gins are, firstly, Baudelaire's poetry; secondly, the anti-Christian
individualism of Nietzsche; thirdly, that cult of refined physical
sensations of which the gospel is Huysmans' A. rebours; and
fourthly, the sensation of Oscar Wilde's trial and the morbid thrill
of his Salome, which, in Max Reinhardt's setting, was one of the
most frequently produced plays of the period. So far as sexual
cruelty is a part of Satanism (e.g. as handled by Gerhart Haupt-
mann, or by Eduard Stucken in Die weissen Gotter, or in the numer-
ous studies of incest) it derives from the earlier and crude pathology
of the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) and the Austrian novelist
LEOPOLD VON SACHER-MASOCH1 (1835-94). There is a ritual as well
as a gospel of Satanism, and the culmination of this ritual is the
Black Mass,2 which for Huysmans' hero des Esseintes precedes
his surrender to the (to him) sensual fascination of Catholicism. In
German literature it occurs notably in Bierbaum's Prin^ Kuckuck,
Kurt Martens' ILoman aus der Decadence, and (in barbaric splendour)
in Eduard Stucken's Die weissen Gotter\ but primarily and as an
inherent part of his sexual mysticism in the tales of Prsybyszewski,
'der deutsche Sataniker*. Przybyszewski's hero is always himself in
his speculative capacity. Totenmesse (1893) shows this personal
hero tortured by sexual atrophy due to cerebral hypertrophy
(which we are to understand is the curse and abnormality of
civilization); and he tries to lash this shrunk feeling into primitive
plenitude by plunging into wild orgies. In vain, however; for such
excitation of the senses cannot be more than the spurt of a dying
flame. Physical deviation from the norm might be unobjectionable

1  Sacher-Masoch's heroes show their love by using the riding-whip, often
in a lurid Slav milieu (he was a native of Lemberg in Galicia). Typical novels
of his are Das Vermacbtnis Kains> Venus im Pe/%, Die Seeknfdngerin. Masochism
is derived from his name (pp. 32, 34).

2 There is a detailed description of a Black Mass in Huysmans' La-Bas (i 890).